Thursday, April 24, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
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Harbaugh parents will stay neutral at Super Bowl

SANTA CLARA —

Jackie Harbaugh will wear a neutral-colored outfit, still to be determined. Her daughter, Joani Crean, little sister to coaching brothers John and Jim Harbaugh, plans to sport all black at the Super Bowl to show no allegiances whatsoever.

“I am wearing whatever fits that day,” Crean quipped.

The entire Harbaugh family — a close-knit, hyper-competitive crew that also includes Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean — realizes it has already won big. They got their Super Bowl victory on Sunday, when each coach did his part to ensure a family reunion in New Orleans next week, with John’s Baltimore Ravens facing off against Jim’s San Francisco 49ers in the first Super Bowl with sibling coaches on opposite sidelines.

One Harbaugh will haul home the Lombardi Trophy from the Big Easy.

And, no, the family members haven’t decided where to sit for the Feb. 3 NFL title game at the Superdome — or at least they aren’t revealing it if they have.

“We are neutral in the Super Bowl, and we are just excited that they have brought their teams to the pinnacle of sports,” Jackie Harbaugh said Thursday. “The Super Bowl is the ultimate accomplishment for them and for their teams and for all of the extended football family and all of the teams who have participated in this great game. We are excited for that type of thing.”

Her sons, all of 15 months apart, have tried to downplay this matchup from the moment it developed — each wanting to keep the focus on the players, on the field.

The Harbaughs have been inundated with well wishes and media requests since the moment John’s Ravens beat New England on Sunday night a few hours after the 49ers won at Atlanta. This matchup provides the storyline of storylines, one that will compete with Ravens star Ray Lewis’ last hurrah before retirement and the emergence of second-year San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick (in a savvy move, he had pizza delivered to the overcrowded press trailer Thursday).

Fortunately for the Harbaugh folks, they’ve been through this once before — albeit on a slightly smaller stage: prime time on Thanksgiving night 2011. John’s Ravens won 16-6 at home.

“We experienced that last year at Thanksgiving,” Jack Harbaugh said, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

Jack visited each locker room after that game and observed the “smile on John’s face,” then headed over to see how Jim was handling it.

“It was quiet and somber, and finally I saw Jim, all by himself, no one around him,” Jack said. “He still had his coaching thing on, and his hands on his head, and we realized that that is where we were needed. . And we know we are going to experience that next week.”

For Jackie Harbaugh, who has held things together for decades and is known to offer up a sports cliche or two herself, the real celebration began last weekend.

“I felt that was a joyful moment for them, for our whole family, our extended family and for my father, who is 97 years old,” she said. “Great feeling of joy. I am going to be neutral in the game, and I know one is going to win and one is going to lose, but I would really like to end in a tie. Can the NFL do that?”

If only it could finish that way.

And don’t count on Jack doing any in-game analysis, or to start guessing which team might have the edge in any given phase.

“I’m only neutral on that,” he said. “I don’t look for body language. I am not really a coach anymore. I am a spectator and a parent. When I had the chance to watch over the weekend, all of those parents of those players that were competing and the thrill of watching their youngsters compete at that level, all of the coaches involved, their careers, how they all started out in high school and college, and now they are in the NFL and competing for this ultimate prize. I think more as a parent now than I do as a coach, and I don’t really get involved in those other things.”

Unless one of his kids tries to pull a fast one, that is.

John Harbaugh produced a little prank of his own during his parents’ NFL-organized conference call Thursday morning.

“John in Baltimore,” the moderator said, announcing the next person up for a turn to ask a question.

“Is it true that both of you like Jim better than John?” John chirped, before getting figured out fast by his sister.

Jackie had begun speaking with, “We do not.”

“Hey, John, how are you?” Joani replied.

“Is that John?” Jackie asked.

After a quick greeting, he was off to practice.

“Love you both, love you Joani,” John said.

Back to game-planning. And 3,000 miles away on a rainy day in the Bay Area, Jim, too, was busy gearing up.

And, for everybody getting a kick out of those catchy “Harbowl” and “Superbaugh” nicknames for the game, the parents ask that it be kept simple and authentic.

“Jack Harbaugh here, I prefer it to be called the Lombardi Trophy winner,” he said.

Added his wife, “I prefer it to be called the Super Bowl.”

San Francisco safety Donte Whitner is prepared for all the back and forth of the Harbaugh family affair for another week.

“Oh, man, I know that they’re very proud, I know that either way they’re going to feel for the one that loses and they’re going to be happy for the other,” Whitner said. “But at the end of the day, they’re all family, and you bring a Super Bowl ring back to the family.”

 

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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